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Lord Emsworth

Much like all masters perched on the literary high table, P G Wodehouse also used Nature as a colluding partner in his narratives. When all is well with the world, roses are in bloom, bees and birds go about doing what they are ordained to do, and the sun goes about spreading cheer with due benevolence. But when giant egos clash or a disaster looms large, Nature stops in its tracks, birds stop chirping noisily, breeze ceases to blow and even flowers stand still.

In other words, Nature is depicted as having a sensitive soul, cheered up when the proceedings are going as per plans, but looking askance when the reverse happens. In the hands of proficient wordsmiths, it assumes a character of its own and provides mute support to the goings on in the narrative.

By way of an example, consider the story ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend.’

Angus McAllister, the head gardener at Blandings Castle, has an anti-moss spirit. Lord Emsworth often wonders why Providence had not taken note of his sterling qualities and made him a first class mule. He recalls the time when, after having sacked him, McAllister, he, Lord Emsworth, had to plead with him to come back. This alone had resulted in his favorurite pumpkin winning the Agricultural Show.

It was a supreme sacrifice at the altar of an employer’s ego, paving the way for a subsequent loss of the iron hand to have an effective control over his own property, comprising not only the castle and its grounds but also the exquisite flora and fauna hosted therein. Lord Emsworth had thus ended up becoming the ground under the number twelve heel of the Glaswegian head-gardener.

He believed that he had thus evolved into a spineless and unspeakably unworthy descendant of his ancestors who had perfected the art of handling employees, even if it involved dividing an obdurate employee into four employees by using a battle-axe without any eyebrows getting raised.

Till the time Gladys popped up in the scheme of things, McAllister’s control over ‘flarze’ in the Blandings Castle gardens was absolute. Anyone desirous of acquiring some of these had to wait till the time he was in an amiable state of mind, steer the conversation around to the subject of interior decoration, and then took a pot shot at one’s desire.

If one’s Guardian Angels were in a benevolent mood, and if McAllister chose to show you around the gardens with a dash of Scottish pride, one could see the following species in full bloom:

Achillea

 

Bignonia Radicans

 

Campanula

 

Digitalis

 

Euphorbia

 

Funkia

 

Gypsophila

 

Helianthus

 

Iris

 

Liatris

 

Monarda

 

Phlox Drummondi

 

Salvia

 

Thalictrum

 

Vinca

 

Yucca

And when a small girl in a velveteen frock is seen flitting about his sacred gardens and picking his sacred flowers – that too, a girl who had copped him on the shin with a stone just the other day, he rushes out of his den at forty-five miles per hour.

Lord Emsworth’s soul quivers at the spectacle of the man charging down on him with gleaming eyes and bristling whiskers. But with the soft hand of Gladys in his hands, his spine sheds all the cottage cheese it had accumulated over time and gets converted into one made up of chilled steel.

‘This young lady,’ said Lord Emsworth, ‘has my full permission to pick all the flowers she wants, McAllister. If you do not see eye to eye with me in this matter, McAllister, say so and we will discuss what you are going to do about it, McAllister. These gardens, McAllister, belong to me, and if you do not – er – appreciate that fact you will, no doubt, be able to find another employer – ah – more in tune with your views. I value your services highly, McAllister, but I will not be dictated to in my own garden, McAllister. Er – dash it,’ added his lordship, spoiling the whole effect.

The sudden transformation in the character of the main protagonist leaves Nature baffled and astounded. All is still for some time. The Achillea, the Bignonia Radicans, the Ampanula, the Digitalis, the Euphorbia, the Funkia, the Gypsophila, the Helianthus, the Iris, the Liatris, the Monarda, the Phlox Drummondi, the Salvia, the Thalictrum, the Vinca and the Yucca – all are still.

Angus McAllister is perplexed. He decides it is better to cease to be a Napoleon than to be a Napoleon in exile. ‘Mphm,’ he says.

Nature resumes its breathing. The breeze begins to blow again. And all over the gardens the birds resume their musical notes. And the Achillea, the Bignonia Radicans, the Ampanula, the Digitalis, the Euphorbia, the Funkia, the Gypsophila, the Helianthus, the Iris, the Liatris, the Monarda, the Phlox Drummondi, the Salvia, the Thalictrum, the Vinca and the Yucca, much relieved, start swaying in the gentle wind yet again.

The repertoire of such literary giants as Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Kalidasa are littered with natural allusions. Same is true of P G Wodehouse.

(Illustration courtesy Suvarna Sanyal, a retired banker who has an eye and an ear for all there is to see, listen to and laugh at in this world.

Representations of flowers courtesy Wikipedia. Given the non-floricultural background of yours truly, errors and omissions in these may kindly be excused.)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/lord-emsworth-and-the-girlfriend-a-viewpoint

https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/great-wodehouse-romances-lord-emsworth-and-the-girl-friend-by-ken-clevenger)

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Lord Emsworth

The narratives dished out by Plum not only amuse but also educate the lay reader. Critics may label these as escapist fares, but that does not take away the kind of social and spiritual lessons which are embedded therein.

When a girl whom you have come to respect seeks your protection, you try to rise to her expectations. Suddenly, the spine which was made of cottage cheese gets transformed into one of chilled steel. You stand up to bullies and tell them where they get off. You look them in the eye and make them wilt, making them beat a hasty retreat from their time-tested positions. Like Angus McAllister, they suddenly find more merit in ‘ceasing to be a Napoleon than to become a Napoleon in exile.’

The Parva School Treat Transformation

When the story begins, we find that Lord Emsworth’s soul is weighed down with woe. The sun is going about its task with great aplomb, but he is unable to potter around in his own gardens. For, this is the day of the August Bank Holiday, ‘when a tidal wave of the peasantry and its squealing young engulfed those haunts of immemorial peace.’ In place of an old coat, he is forced to wear a stiff collar and a top hat and be genial. As if this were not enough, he is expected to make a speech in the evening.

However, by the time the story reaches its climax, he has become a transformed man. He has become a man amongst men. He can stand up to Angus McAllister, his gardener, and boldly reject his proposal to lay a gravel path through the moss-covered yew alley. He has even found the courage to give a piece of his mind to Constance, his dominating sister.

His foremost concern is to bring some sunshine into the life of Gladys, his girlfriend. If she has not had any nourishment, she must be provided a sumptuous fare not only for her but also for her younger brother, Ern. If she asks for flowers from the Blandings gardens, she must have them. He would rather walk back with her to the cottage she is staying at, rather than face the prospect of making a speech.

Doing the ancestors proud

Lord Emsworth detests the fact that he is no longer the captain of his soul. But he ends up acquiring the courage to stand up to the bullies in his life. From being a spineless and unspeakably unworthy descendant of ancestors who had certainly known how to handle employees, he can now boast of being a tough egg. Even though his soul quivers, the simple act of Gladys seeking his protection from a menacing Angus McAllister by slipping her small, hot hand into his, he secures a mute vote of confidence. It is something that he wishes to be worthy of.

Learning from kids of a metropolitan origin

Street smart kids of metropolitan origin have perfected their survival and self-preservation skills. They acquire a ‘breezy insouciance’ which their country cousins lack. Shyness is not one of the virtues they can boast of. They have no difficulty in translating their thoughts into speech. Their dog-management skills are something to write home about.

If they need to pick flowers, they stoop to conquer. They have no reservations about throwing stones at those who endeavour to thwart their floral ambitions. Those attempting to do so even run the risk of getting copped on the shin. And if someone were to deliver a sharp reprimand, they are not averse to biting them in the leg.

These are the kind of personality traits which appeal to someone like Lord Emsworth who believes that he is not a captain of his own soul. Kids with a kindred spirit end up earning his unalloyed reverence.

One of the kids who earns the awe and admiration of Lord Emsworth is Gladys. She is described as a ‘small girl, of uncertain age – possibly twelve or thirteen, though a combination of London fogs and early cares had given her face a sort of wizened motherliness which in some odd way caused his lordship from the first to look on her as belonging to his own generation. She was the type of girl you see in back streets carrying a baby nearly as large as herself and still retaining sufficient energy to lead one little brother by the hand and shout recrimination at another in the distance.’ Ern, her younger brother, also falls in the same category.

Pristine love that uplifts

A streak of independence, disobedience and childlike vehemence invariably appeals to someone who is not himself in the firing line. When it affects the parties who happen to be the tormentors, the sense of awe and admiration experienced by the tormentee grows manifold. Lord Emsworth is no exception to this general rule.

Love results into a spiritual upliftment of sorts. One is no longer concerned only about one’s own discomforts, whether material or spiritual. One starts looking at the broader picture. The vision is no longer myopic. The scales fall from one’s eyes. One works towards bringing some sunshine into the lives of those who are somewhat disadvantaged. Social and economic barriers fade away. Empathy and compassion kick in. So does the milk of human kindness. One focuses only on providing adequate succour to the object of one’s affections.

(Illustration courtesy Suvarna Sanyal, a retired banker who has an eye and an ear for all there is to see, listen to and laugh at in this world.)

(Related Posts: 

https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/great-wodehouse-romances-lord-emsworth-and-the-girl-friend-by-ken-clevenger

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/when-masters-thos-bonzo-and-moon-rise-in-love)

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